The future is red

A Chinese-led coding system gains support for 5G standardisation


Making strides in 5G

Following Brexit, Trump’s election and the rise of Marine Le Pen there has been growing speculation among economists and journalists that the world is spinning towards the ‘end of globalisation’. But while politics veer towards isolationism, technology is seeking ways to make everyday objects as globally integrated as possible.

Last month in Las Vegas the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP), an international organisation that focuses on telecoms standardisation, convened to discuss the forthcoming generation of data transfer technology. The organisation voted on certain systems that should be used as the standard in the global development of 5G mobile networks (to replace current 4G systems as soon as 2018, according to an action plan published by the European Commission).

One of the winning entrants was China-developed PolarCode, which beat out the French Turbo 2.0 and the American LDPC. The result was generally heralded by Chinese domestic media as a breaking of the European and American monopoly on telecommunication systems. Even the Financial Times described it as a “victory”, particularly for Chinese telecoms giant Huawei, which is pioneering PolarCode.

“The success of the PolarCode is a milestone for the telecommunications standards supported by China,” head of Mobile China Alliances Wang Yanhui told the Global Times.

A commentary on Sina Tech elucidates that the 3GPP has defined three functional settings for 5G networks: eMBB, mMTC, and URLLC. PolarCode was chosen to fulfil the role of “control channel encoding scheme” for only the eMBB setting; the other two settings have not yet been discussed.

The significance of the achievement is due primarily to the comparative youth of PolarCode. Created in 2008 by Turkish professor Erdal Arikan, the encoder was soon adopted and developed by a group of Chinese companies, including Huawei. In a short timeframe, this group in China has pushed PolarCode past Turbo 2.0, which has over 20 years of development history, and LDPC, which has over 50.

Trusted Reviews, a tech site, reported in 2015 that Huawei and Japan’s NTT Docomo network had both achieved 5G data transfer speeds in field tests roughly 12-times the peak of 4G speeds: slower than laboratory tests, but a promising “real-world” example. This is generally the purpose of 5G: to be faster and also quicker off the mark, so that data transfers start and end sooner. Huawei has notably been working closely with carmakers on 5G.

These faster and more efficient transfer speeds will be necessary to facilitate the expanding Internet of Things (IoT) – such as driverless cars. Gartner, a technology research firm, predicts that by 2020 – the same year China hopes to roll out domestic 5G coverage – there will be 20.8 billion devices connected to the IoT, compared to the approximate 6.4 billion connected today. Ericsson, another major player in telecoms infrastructure, has proclaimed that 5G will lead to data travelling 100 times faster than current levels.

Of course as the world becomes more digitally dependent it encounters new security issues. The United States has repeatedly blocked Huawei from becoming involved in its domestic communications network on the basis of security concerns, but such objections might become problematic in light of PolarCode’s recent international recognition.

“The standardisation of 5G is now influenced by Chinese manufacturers; the notion that in the future America might once again block Chinese telecommunications equipment appears quite laughable,” Shanghai Securities News wrote. But Huawei’s CEO Ken Hu also said that the company has no plans to develop a 5G network in the US because it’s “not making significant progress” in the American market.

Huawei’s path will not be made any easier by Trump’s “America-first” sentiments; but if it controls the technology standard it has a trump card of its own.

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